- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

Sprinter Kaylin Whitney is quick at everything she does, with the exception of cleaning her room.

What teenager doesn’t have to be reminded a time or two to tidy things up? Especially one who’s in a big hurry to be great.

The soon-to-be high school senior passed on a college career to turn pro early. She signed a shoe deal with Nike on her 17th birthday in March and even skipped her prom to race at the Penn Relays because “I’d rather wear a track uniform than a prom dress.”

Whitney is clearly on the fast track to success, already breaking junior records that once belonged to the likes of Allyson Felix and Marion Jones.

At this week’s U.S. championships in Eugene, Oregon, Whitney has modest goals - make the final in the 100 and 200 meters. A year from now, she has bigger ambitions: become the youngest female in four decades to qualify for the Summer Olympics in a sprint event.

“I’m still a kid,” Whitney said by phone from her home in Clermont, Florida. “But I can still keep up with them.”

First, though, she had to get over the awe factor. She grew up idolizing Felix & Co. Now, she’s in a lane next to them.

So far, she’s raced in two Diamond League events and finished eighth in both races. This is all part of the learning process, which is why she went pro now instead of in a year with the Rio Games even closer.

“It’s not a game anymore,” said Whitney, whose father, DuWayne, ran track at Arkansas. “I’ve got to mentally mature myself. I’ve got to take it very seriously, especially when you’re on that line.”

Whitney made headlines last July, when she ran the 100 in 11.10 seconds at the U.S. junior nationals in Eugene. That broke the world youth mark of 11.13 set by Chandra Cheeseborough in 1976. (Whitney’s record, though, didn’t last long as 16-year-old Candace Hill topped her mark over the weekend by finishing in 10.98.)

The following day, Whitney then eclipsed the world junior record by running the 200 in 22.49 seconds. That shattered the 17-and-under mark of 22.58 set by Jones in 1992. Whitney also surpassed the prep low-altitude mark of 22.51, established by Felix at the 2003 Mount SAC Relays.

“It wasn’t until I got home and had all these newspapers calling me that I realized I did something pretty cool,” Whitney said.

Her list of college choices included LSU, Texas A&M;, Oregon, USC and Texas. She ultimately made the decision to turn pro because, “I just asked myself: ‘What choice would I make for me to have the most fun?’ So, I chose this.”

She’s the fifth 17-year-old female to turn pro since Felix did so in 2003, according to USA Track and Field.

But that route isn’t for everyone.

“I wish she would’ve experienced one or two years in college,” said Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2003 NCAA 400-meter champion while at Texas. “But as long as she stays patient, not rush it too much and is able to take her time to develop, I think she’s going to be one of the faces in the sport. I look forward to cheering for her the next few years.”

To finish her senior year of high school, Whitney will take online courses. She may even finish early because she’s that quick at everything - besides straightening her room, of course.

“My mom says I’m a slob, but I’m really not,” Whitney said, laughing. “Sometimes, after a long day, I just don’t want to clean my room.”

Here are a couple of things to know about the gregarious teenager: She likes to shop, chat with friends, cook with her mom (breakfast for dinner is their specialty), go to movies and fish - not deep-sea fishing because she detests the smell of chum, but by a lake using hot dogs as bait.

“At home, hanging out with my friends, I have a good time. That’s where I can be 17,” said Whitney, who trains with a group that includes 2004 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin. “At the track, I’m very mature. I keep a level head.”

Should Whitney make the Olympic team next summer, she’d be the youngest American sprinter since Cheeseborough qualified for the 1976 Montreal Games, according to USATF.

“I mean, that’s cool to think about,” Whitney said. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

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